How were you able to adapt during COVID-19 when the meeting and events industry got disrupted?
At the start of 2020, we had a number of large off-site events on our corporate calendar including our every-four-years employee retreats, an off-site Board meeting, two customer meetings (one in Canada), along with several smaller meetings, dinners, and other events. When the initial Stay-at-Home Order was issued, we were only three weeks out from the kick-off of our employee retreats. We have held these retreats every four years and to accommodate our 24/7 operation, we take 25% of employees over the course of four retreats.
I had been working on these retreats for about 18 months and was at the point where everything was done: rooming lists, charter bus/airport transport coordination, BEO’s signed & final numbers given to the resort, entertainment on the schedule, SWAG ordered, and awaiting distribution. All that remained was creating nametags and packing the SWAG for each retreat – literally, everything else was ready to go. Then the world stopped. At that point, our leadership made the decision to reschedule all four retreats to 2021, so I secured new dates with the resort, then worked with our employees to cancel flights, and then rescheduled all of my other ancillary vendors. Along with those reschedules came negotiating to change fees, the force majeure clauses, transferring deposits, etc. with the end goal of keeping the change costs as minimal as possible.
As we drew closer to the summer months, Leadership determined that we would not be able to hold our customer event in Canada in July or Oklahoma in October, so I worked with those resorts to reschedule to 2021. Next was the decision to cancel the Board meeting in Southern California due to travel restrictions put in place so that I worked with that resort to cancel completely with the hope of someday rescheduling. That became the norm all during the summer of 2020, trying to figure out:1. Should we roll the dice and reschedule or just cancel altogether?
2. What is the cost of rescheduling vs. canceling?
3. What does our contract allow? Hello, in-depth force majeure analysis! A term I think all planners learned about in-depth in 2020!
4. How flexible will the hotel be if we rescheduled vs. cancel?
5. What is the new norm for force majeure?
The lessons I learned over the past year were many, including most importantly: make sure that the force majeure clause is robust. Going forward, our Legal Department should be involved with any contracts signed for events. It also confirmed that developing good working relationships with hotels, vendors, and one particular DMC who provided me with great industry insight when the decision was made to fully cancel the employee retreats, is extremely valuable. I look forward to planning events again, but I would be lying if I said we weren’t all a little reluctant to sign a contract until more of the country opens back up.
This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where we celebrate the positivity and optimism shown by planners across the industry when navigating the turbulent waters that COVID-19 has brought the meetings and events industry. Keep an eye out as we release more stories like this over the next few months.